Of Simple Meeting Houses and Grand Cathedrals

Chelsea Gospel Hall, Bristol, U.K.

I grew up in a denomination known as the "Plymouth Brethren".

The Brethren denied that they were a denomination. That was true inasmuch as there was no central governing body, no constitution and no hierarchy.  Each local Church was autonomous and was governed by (un-ordained and unpaid ) male Elders.

It was not true inasmuch as there were norms and practices which were common to each of the "Assemblies".

The Brethren were the spawning pool for one of the two great heresies which afflict much of  the modern day Evangelical Churches viz: "Dispensationalism" (you'll have to look that up for yourself!)  the other heresy being the noxious and dangerous "Prosperity Gospel"

I could go on at length about the Brethren, and have done so in other blogs. N.B. a "Google" search is most likely to direct you to a parallel denomination (arising from an early division) which has some resemblances to a cult.

My focus today is on the utter simplicity of their meeting houses.  No art work, no stained glass (Chelsea Gospel Hall, above, where I grew up had I think frosted plain glass - frosted that we would not be disturbed by the world outside), and certainly no cross or crucifix. 

There were biblical texts from Revelation painted on the east and west walls, before you "Behold I come quickly", behind you "Even so, come Lord Jesus". (The Brethren were almost obsessed with their teachings about the second coming of the Lord Jesus).

At the front of the Hall there was a large podium, in front of which was a plain and lovely table, on which, every Sunday morning would be placed a Silver Chalice filled with wine, and a Silver Paten on which was a whole loaf. Unlike most Protestant groups which shared the bread and the cup every Sunday  "in remembrance of Him".

There was and there is a great beauty in simplicity.   I treasure the memory of simple beauty in a Gospel Hall. There was also an aural beauty in the long silences we "heard" in our Sunday Morning Meeting.

In due course I needed and wanted more.  I began to flirt with the Church of England.  I didn't get it all but there was a new beauty in the simple 1662 Book of Common Prayer liturgy, a beauty which was seducing me.

Came the day, (I think that I was twenty three years old), when I had my first car.  On vacation from the Bank where I worked I threw a simple tent into the car and drove to Kent.  Of course I wanted to stand above the White Cliffs of Dover. More than that I was inexorably drawn to Canterbury and its great Cathedral.

I entered and was overwhelmed by a different kind of beauty.  Then I "heard" something else in this new beauty.  The building spoke to me.  "Come home" it said, "come home to your heritage".

Thus the beauty of Canterbury Cathedral was utterly consequential for my journey into the Church of England. I would weep were Canterbury Cathedral to be destroyed by fire.

Thus I am able to square my sadness about the Notre Dame, Paris fire with my "equal and more" sadness about the arson at those three Baptist Churches in Louisiana.  

"Equal and more" because the Notre Dame fire was accidental, but the Louisiana fires were a result of human evil.  I hope that I would weep were Chelsea Gospel Hall to be burned to the ground.

The Cathedral whose beauty spoke to my soul in my journey into the Church of England.


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